Ann McFeatters: Trump playing politics with 2020 census question

A man waves an American flag

Democrats in multiple states are planning to sue the Trump administration to stop the 2020 U.S. Census from asking whether people living in the U.S. are citizens, a move that may find initial success in the courts but may also be based on false assumptions.

Critics have argued that a proposed citizenship question in the 2020 Census will deter legal immigrants from responding and decrease the number of people counted in those communities.

"The US Census is completed every ten years to collect data that accurately reflects the total United States population, regardless of citizenship", the text reads.

"I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate", Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wrote in a memo to his subordinates.

These actions fly in the face of centuries of bipartisan consensus on the importance of a precise and reliable Census count, which is required by the United States Constitution.

The Trump administration faced immediate backlash after officials announced Monday that the question would be added to the 2020 census.

The lawsuit has been months in the making and is separate from efforts being taken in states, including California, New York and New Jersey, to prevent a citizenship question from being included in the decennial census. So any question beyond how many people live in a household is superfluous. For the national head count, all USA households will encounter the question: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

Because the citizenship question is already in the annual community surveys, we know that more than half of America's foreign-born residents are not citizens, and foreign-born residents make up 13.2 percent of the overall population.

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In fact, such an implementation has been adequate since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, without putting a citizenship question on the census because other government data sources, such as the American Community Survey, have been sufficient.

Yet the 2020 census may be different from all the rest. "The Twitter commentary is about how this citizenship question is going to be used to target individuals who are not here legally".

The U.S. decennial census is a hallowed institution that lies at the heart of our democracy. Tellingly, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, last known for his failed attempt to extract voter-specific data from all 50 states in the fruitless hunt for widespread voter fraud, said he has been asking President Donald Trump to add the question.

The Commerce Department's assertion that the citizenship question was asked on "almost" every decennial census between 1820 and 1950 also pushes the limits of reality. One of the Census Bureau's biggest challenges in obtaining a count of all residents is non-response.

That is all the Census was meant to do: Perform a head count every 10 years so the federal government could make its representation and tax disbursements fair and balanced.

"I wouldn't answer any questions before", she said as she made her way to work on Tuesday.

"Secretary Ross determined that obtaining complete and accurate information to meet this legitimate government goal outweighed the limited potential adverse impacts", it said.

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